Ben Rhodes eyes first NASCAR trucks win at Kansas Speedway


Ben Rhodes celebrates after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in Bristol, Tennessee on April 16.

AP file photo

It’s a question NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series driver Ben Rhodes hears on a weekly, if not almost daily, basis.

What comes next?

Rhodes, at the tender age of 25, has reached the playoffs four times in his six trucks series seasons, tied for second most all-time. He won the trucks championship last year. He already owns a playoff-qualifying win this season and a 30-point lead in the standings heading into Saturday night’s Heart of America 200 at Kansas Speedway.

So what’s kept him from climbing the next rung up the ladder to the NASCAR Xfinity or Cup series?

“I do get that ‘What’s next?’ question a lot,” said Rhodes, driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Toyota Tundra, ”and honestly, it’s just win another championship. I’m fully, 100% committed to this team, and we’re on track to winning another championship.

“That’s my dream, that’s my goal, and that’s what my entire being is dedicated to right now. I don’t have any plans beyond the trucks series.”

Rhodes, who is from Louisville, Ky., made 10 Xfinity starts for JR Motorsports in 2015 (with two Top 10 finishes) and one Cup start last year at Sonoma, but he’s comfortable racing for ThorSport, one of the truck series’ most solid organizations.

Rhodes’ 2021 title was ThorSport’s fourth trucks championship, most of any organization.

“I’m fortunate to be racing for ThorSport, they’ve taken extremely good care of me,” Rhodes said. “I wouldn’t be racing right now if it wasn’t for them. I’m grateful where I am. I’m loyal to that. The day I wouldn’t be racing at ThorSport is the day Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) didn’t have room for me.

“As long as there is room for Ben Rhodes, that’s where I hope to be, winning championships. Second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh championship … I don’t know how long we can go, but I want to keep winning them.”

A year ago, Rhodes opened the season by winning the first two races on the schedule, at Daytona and on the Daytona dirt track, and he never looked back.

He’s off to another fast start this season. Though Rhodes has just the one win at Bristol, he has five top fives in the first seven races, including second at Daytona and at Atlanta, leaving him to wonder how many points and trophies he’s left on the track.

“I was just thinking about that the other night,’’ Rhodes said. “There was a moment at Daytona where as we came to the white flag, I had a run that I could have taken. But I thought it was too early, so I waited a little bit longer and I got to second place when the caution came out that brought us to the checkered flag. So if I just took that first run, I could have won it.

“I look back at Las Vegas, we got wrecked on the straightaway. What could I have done differently, I really don’t know, but I wish it didn’t happen. At Martinsville, if we didn’t go for the stage points, I could have won the race. But all of that is hindsight. I just have to be happy with the decisions we have made.”

Having a championship on his resume after falling short three previous times in the postseason has taken the pressure off Rhodes and the No. 88 team.

“A championship is validation, and it was a big burst of momentum that is on our side now,” he said. “I feel like I can breathe. I feel more comfortable in the truck and with the moves I can make on the track. It’s allowed me to be myself inside the race car. When you don’t have that validation, it’s hard to do that; you feel like you’re walking on a tightrope. Now I feel like I’m walking on a nice big sidewalk where I have room to move around and do what I want.

“My crew chief, Rick Lushes, is bringing me Tundras that are top five in speed and comfortable, so it makes my job a lot easier. I give all the credit to him, Security Solutions and the rest of my guys. I’m not doing anything too different. I’m trying to big-picture race. We won the championship last year, and that gives me the blueprint on how to do it again. So I’m trying to follow that blueprint as close as I can.”

Rhodes, who has won six career trucks races, is winless in eight starts at Kansas, with a best finish of second to Ross Chastain in 2019. He was 10th in 2021.

It’s especially important for Rhodes to master Kansas this year, because the trucks will return in the fall for a playoff race.

“Kansas was a weak point for us last year, as was that whole intermediate track program,” he said, “and we worked hard on it over the winter. I think it showed at Vegas, and I’m expecting Kansas to be a good race for us. I have it circled on the schedule, and, fingers crossed, we do everything right.”

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